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What Kind of Wood Is Alder?

Updated February 21, 2017

Alder is a relatively heavy, soft hardwood used for cabinetry and other woodworking projects. This wood can be harvested from a number of species, including black alder, grey alder and red alder, all native to the Northern Hemisphere. According to Finishing Basics, alder wood is often simply labelled as "hardwood" when used in unfinished furniture or cabinets.

Appearance

This wood has a straight, fine grain when harvested from managed trees, but may be irregular or "burry" when harvested from wild stands. Irregular grain is most common in trees growing near streams in open areas. The fresh wood is warm light brown, but turns deep orange and then nut-brown when exposed to oxygen. The sapwood and heartwood can be difficult to tell apart. Red alder tends to be whitish when cut, turning light red-brown over time. When this wood is quarter-sawn, it tends to produce "false rays," an effect that gives the wood a similar look to that of oak.

Durability

Alder wood is dimensionally stable, and holds its shape and size well after proper seasoning. It does not resist decay or furniture beetles well, but does have some resistance to powder-post beetles. Alder is permeable and absorbs preservative treatments well. Piled green lumber may develop purplish stains if not seasoned shortly after cutting. This wood is relatively soft for a hardwood, scoring between 590 and 660 on the Janka hardness scale --- higher than softwoods such as pine, but much lower than more durable hardwoods such as oak.

Working Properties

Woodworkers and furniture-makers prize alder for its easy working properties. This wood glues, screws, nails and cuts well. It also responds well to turning and carving. Alder has a slight blunting effect on tools, and may require routine blade sharpening for best results. This wood sands and takes stain well, allowing it to be stained to match other woods in cabinetry and furniture. According to Woodworkers Source, alder is among the easiest woods to peel into veneer.

Uses

Due to its easy working properties, alder wood sees use in a wide range of products. Manufacturers convert alder lumber into veneer, toys, broom and brush handles, furniture and cores for plywood. This wood is popular in cabinetry and is often used to make hardwood dowels and concealed parts, such as drawer sides, for furniture made of more costly wood. It also works well for panelling, multimedia cabinets and bentwood pieces.

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About the Author

G.D. Palmer is a freelance writer and illustrator living in Milwaukee, Wis. She has been producing print and Web content for various organizations since 1998 and has been freelancing full-time since 2007. Palmer holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in writing and studio art from Beloit College in Beloit, Wis.